The Kite Runner from Kfar Aza

מצילומי הלילה של אביב קוץ
Night Photographs, Aviv Kutz

This article was initially published in Portfolio Magazine in Hebrew on October 17th, 2023. It was translated into English by Sharon Yam Sananes and Ariane Goldberg Davidson and edited by Art Spiel. This publication in Art Spiel is in collaboration with Portfolio Magazine.

The Kutz family had always found hope and solidarity in their ability to create. It was their way of managing and flourishing as a family and as individuals. Aviv, Livnat, Rotem, Yonatan, and Iftach Kutz were murdered in their home. Aviv’s sister, Talya Kutz Shamir—artist and art therapist—talks about the family on her Instagram account, using their art as a jumping-off point for conversation.

Talya Kutz Shamir describes that on Friday evening, October 6th, at the Kutz family home in Kfar Aza, there was great anticipation for the next day. Parents Aviv and Livnat and their three children, Yonatan, Yiftach, and Rotem, were waiting together with the other families in the kibbutz for the annual event planned for Saturday—the kite festival event—Afifoniada (Afifon- Hebrew for Kite) or as they lovingly called it in the kibbutz, “the Avivoniada”.

The event, initiated by Aviv a few years ago, became a tradition: in the morning, families created kites using templates and materials that Aviv had prepared. In the afternoon, everyone gathered at the soccer field, and together, they would launch dozens of colorful and joyful kites above the nearby Gaza border fence.

A group of kids holding kites

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Photos from family albums on Aviv Kutz’s Facebook page

There was always curiosity and anticipation—what would be this year’s Aviv and Livnat’s main theme kite with its central message? Once, it was the iconic Israeli singer Arik Einstein’s image and his famous song each Israeli knows, “Sa Le’at” (Drive Slow). Another time, the kite featured the former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and a hopeful slogan for peace. And another time with the images of Israeli soldiers kidnapped and kept captive in Gaza—calling for their return home. Over the past few years, balloons filled with explosives had been launched from Gaza, designed to explode upon landing in Israel. As these attacks increased, so did the kites from Kfar Aza, always with a clear message—you fly balloons designed to kill, while we will fly kites with a hope for peace.

צילומים מתוך אלבומים משפחתיים בעמוד הפייסבוק של אביב קוץ
Photos from family albums on Aviv Kutz’s Facebook page (Arik Einstein)
A kite with a drawing of a person

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Photos from family albums on Aviv Kutz’s Facebook page (Shimon Peres)

The next day, Saturday, the event did not take place. Instead, news of terrorists infiltrating the kibbutz began to arrive. At an early stage, all contact with the family was lost. No one answered their phones. Aviv’s parents, besieged in a shelter on the other side of the kibbutz, could not contact their son and his family. All attempts to send someone to check on them failed. It was impossible to approach their neighborhood in the kibbutz, where many terrorists roamed, and endless shots were fired. The horrifying truth became apparent only after many hours. All members of the family were found dead, lying on one bed. Aviv was lying over them, his arms embracing his wife and three children.

Shortly after that, Aviv’s sister, Talya Kutz Shamir— artist and art therapist—began sharing Aviv’s photos on her Instagram account to describe who Aviv was through both his artworks and hers. Alongside Aviv’s senior executive role in a consulting company, he photographed, sculpted, painted, welded, and used every means at his disposal to create with his hands; besides that, he loved delving into historical archives of the country, of the kibbutz, engaging in conversations with older people, learning more and more about lives that once were.

צילומי הלילה של אביב קוץ
Night Photographs, Aviv Kutz
צילומי הלילה של אביב קוץ
Night Photographs, Aviv Kutz
אביב יותר את פסלי הכלבים
Aviv Kutz

Through Talya’s Instagram stories, you also got to know Livnat, Aviv’s wife, an artist. Livnat began her career as a graphic designer. Later, she established the “workshop” (“Bet Melakhah” in Hebrew) in Sha’ar Hanegev, a Regional Council in the north-western Negev in the south of Israel. She wanted to create a space for youth and residents, who frequently faced rocket barrages from Gaza, to heal and alleviate the trauma and tension of living under constant alert. The workshop website defines it as a safe space for all to learn and restore, through hands-on activities, “a place for creation, innovation, and dreaming.” It offered woodworking, pottery, sewing, ceramics, and more. The center grew over time, and students from the nearby school began attending the workshop for learning through hands-on activities as an alternative to their regular classes. Simultaneously, the workshop organized Inspirational meetings such as art sessions with local Bedouin women, and other community-based initiatives.

ליבנת בבית המלאכה
Livnat Kutz in the Workshop

Two weeks ago, Talya started posting on Instagram her own paintings, collages, and embroidery depicting her and her brother’s family life in the 1970s during the Yom Kippur War. Her art was based on letters she had found from that period. “This need to create and share arose as we experienced a prolonged undefined period when there was no information, no funeral, no shiva (seven days of mourning in Judaism), long moments that have been immensely difficult to endure,” says Talya.

טליה קוץ שמיר, בעקבות המכתבים מהמלחמה
Talya Kutz Shamir, following the letters from the war

Talya says she keeps gazing at photos of Aviv, Livnat, and their kids and cannot believe they are all gone. The entire family was wiped out in an instant. “This will be my project somehow, not to let them be erased,” Talya says.

טליה קוץ שמיר, המטבח בבית של אביב וליבנת
Talya Kutz Shamir, the kitchen at Aviv and Livnat’s house

The funeral of Aviv, 53 years old, Livnat, who was supposed to celebrate her 50th birthday these days; the boys Yonatan, 16 years old, Yiftach, 14-and-a half, and Rotem, 20 years old, was held when this article was initially published. May they rest in peace.

All photos courtesy of Anat Or Magal, the artists and their families.

About the writer: Anat Or Magal is a multidisciplinary artist focusing on figurative oil painting and quick sketches inspired by her global travels. She also engages in independent collaborative and sociocultural projects worldwide while lecturing, writing, and exhibiting her work.